The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has officially installed a new Archbishop today. Back in April, Pope Francis named Wilton Gregory to be Washington’s Archbishop.
Gregory, who was previously the Archbishop of Atlanta, replaces Cardinal Donald Wuerl who was forced to resign last year after being implicated by a grand jury investigation because he helped cover up abuse at a string of Pennsylvania churches.
Wuerl’s predecessor, Theodore McCarrick, was also caught up in the Catholic Church’s vast sexual abuse scandal, per The Hill.
Gregory will hope to change the culture surrounding the D.C. Archdiocese, as McCarrick was found guilty of sexually abusing adults and minors throughout his time as the D.C. Archbishop.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Gregory is the First African-American Archbishop of Washington D.C.
As well as being the first African-American Archbishop of D.C., Gregory is also the only living African-American Archbishop within the Catholic Church today.
Gregory is also the first African-American Archbishop who is likely to become a Cardinal, as NPR reports most D.C. Archbishop’s become Cardinals.
In an interview with NPR, the director of Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, John Carr, talks about the significance of Gregory’s race and appointment within the Catholic Church.
“When Archbishop Wilton Gregory goes to southern Maryland to make a visit soon, he will go to parishes, and he will go to schools that were segregated in the 1950s,” Carr said. “And at a time when we have trouble addressing questions of race, at times when we’re divided on questions of race, having a leader because of who he is, what he stands for and how he serves is a tremendous asset in a very difficult conversation.”
2. Gregory has a ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Policy When it comes to Abusive Priests
According to The Hill, Archbishop Gregory led the U.S. bishops conference in 2002 toward a “zero tolerance” policy regarding abuse. He also became the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2001.
John Carr told NPR, that D.C. is a wounded diocese and the first thing Gregory should be is a pastor.
“Well, Washington is a wounded dioceses. And in some ways, we’re ground zero for the latest round of the sexual abuse crisis. So I think the first thing he has to do is be a pastor. We’re hurting, and he has to help heal some of these wounds,” Carr said.
Carr also mentions Gregory’s track record referencing his 2002 zero-tolerance policy.
“When I worked with him at the conference, he was the leader in 2002 that faced up to this crisis – and so zero tolerance for priests who abuse, lay leaders involved in reviewing these matters,” Carr told NPR. “So in an era – in an area where very few people did much, he did more than most.”
3. The Catholic Church Abuse Scandal Shook Gregory to His Core
According to John Carr, Gregory was “offended” by the cover-up scandal and the way the Catholic Church handled the entirety of the abuse crisis.
“He was offended. He became Catholic as a young man and felt this was a horrific abuse of power and trust. And so when others were saying, don’t go so far; don’t go so fast, he simply insisted that there was no place in the Church for people who abuse children, that clergy alone could not judge these cases,” Carr told NPR.
Carr says Gregory is part of the solution when it comes to the Catholic Church’s recent scandals and change in reputation.
“The Church is a lot safer place for young people, but we’re still not dealing effectively with the failed leadership which permitted this. And that’s part of what he brings,” Carr said.
4. Gregory is Using Hope to Help Heal the Catholic Community
During Gregory’s installation as Washinton’s Archbishop, he offered some words of encouragement towards the Catholic community.
“We stand at a defining moment for this local faith community – our hearts filled with hope. The history of this great Washington Diocese is a gift to the Church in the U.S. Our recent sorrow and shame don’t define us; they serve to chasten and strengthen us to face tomorrow,” Gregory said.
According to the Washington D.C. Archdiocese Twitter account, Gregory also mentioned Pope Francis and his message throughout the installation ceremony.
“Pope Francis has now summoned the Church – all the baptized – to leave our comfortable confines and to encounter and welcome the poor, the marginalized, and the neglected, and to place them at the very heart of Christ’s Church,” Gregory said.
5. Gregory Served as the Archbishop of Atlanta Since 2005
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gregory began serving the Georgia city in 2005 as its Archbishop.
The 71-year-old Archbishop from Chicago grew up in tumultuous times, as his early years were spent on the south side of Chicago during the era of racial segregation.
John Carr thinks his experience as an African-American during the Jim Crow-era will help him lead.
“Well, as a young man, he came of age during the civil rights movement. So he has the experience of discrimination. He has the experience of leadership at a time of crisis for the Church,” Carr told NPR. “So I think we will have a humble leader. We will have a strong leader. We will have a leader which reaches out instead of hunkers down.”